2004 Update from Costa Rica and Playa Grande
by Dr. Frank Paladino, sea turtle scientist

Over 160 leatherback turtles came up to nest on the beach at Playa Grande this past season, October through February. This number is three times as many as last year (57 total) and the largest number of nesting turtles at this site in three years.

Dr. Paladino who just returned from Costa Rica and Playa Grande reports, "We predicted this increase 20 months ago after the termination of the El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean. We have been monitoring Playa Grande for over 15 years and have obtained very important information about the effects of natural oceanic and climate patterns. With the warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Nino there were less nutrients in the water for the turtles and the conditions were not the best to harvest the food necessary to fatten up and return to nest. After the Pacific waters cooled and El Nino dissipated the nutrient and food levels were much more favorable to reproduce and nest."

According to Dr. Paladino, another reason for the increase in leatherback nestings may be governmental restraints on the commercial fishing industry and longline fishing. Longlines are lengths of fishing line that can stretch for 40 miles, and entangle and kill the turtles migrating to and from the beaches. The researchers at Las Baulas Park have also put out thousands of hatchlings each year that were protected and hatched on the beach and in the hatchery that we have kept for the past 15 years. Prior to 1988 most of the eggs laid by the females were poached and harvested so very few hatchlings were produced for the 15 years prior to the research and projects at the beach.

Although the numbers of nesting turtles are up for this past nesting season at Playa Grande in Costa Rica, the big picture for leatherback turtle survival is threatening. The problem is the worst in the Pacific Ocean where the number of turtles have dropped from 91,000 in 1980 to fewer than 2,500 in 2004. Dr. Jim Spotila from Drexel University and co leader with Dr. Paladino of the Earthwatch supported research says "Without dramatic intervention we can expect to see them disappear in ten years." Learn more about this resarch with Earthwatch.

For the latest information on the activities of the turtles at Playa Grande go to "Las Baulas Conservation Project 2003 2004 Field Report at http://www.leatherback.org. This site contains the recent season nesting reports from Playa Grande as well as background and photographs on previous seasons at Playa Grande.

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